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Bolton Review of Autobiography

by R.L.Bolton - written in Muga Wire (Bush Music Club) - Dec. 9, 2009

This is a wondrous book ... 320 pages of story, verse, reminiscences, music, photos and autobiographical tales from the long and fruitful life of Pete Seeger - all bound up in an American 11" x 8½" format song book.

This is the revised and expanded third edition of Pete's book, originally published in 1993 and then revised and expanded in 1997 .. And a long way down the track from the little blue `Pete Seeger Song Book`, the remnants of which, having survived my wanderings of the 1960s, are now held together which a bulldog clip so they don't disintegrate all over my bookshelf!

This is much more than a song book. Pete gives the background, the sources of inspiration, the politics of the days of many seminal songs ... the conscious (and, often unconscious) sources of tunes, rhythms and presentations that seem to many of us to have been around all our lives. As a consummate musician - growing up in a family of musicians and music educators - Pete's knowledge of his sources shames most of us who seek to find and draw upon the traditional music forms of our own regions. As a man driven by moral awareness, he is often forced to admit to "stealing" tunes ... either unconsciously (which is fine, within the "folk process")but also being aware of the appropriation - when the tune was just right for a noble purpose!

Whatever the sources (and they are all detailed in this magnificent volume!) Pete gives the music for every variant ... from how he wrote it - to the versions developed in groups he sang with - to the inspired changes often made by other groups whose popular releases are often the ones we all know ... and frequently adopted by Pete!
Anyone aiming to work through all the variants and developments detailed in the book will appreciate the included CD, which has musical examples from some 267 of the book's songs. It is certainly a long way from my 1960s struggles trying to turn a rudimentary grasp of guitar into a convincing rendition of the "dots" on the crumpled pages of my little blue book!

(I can't find any evidence of a local distributor for this wonderful musical memoir. It is published for Sing Out! By W.W. Norton and can be ordered direct from <[...]> ... for US$24.95 + p/p. I bought a copy through Amazon - total cost Aus $30.69 posted.

Bob Bolton

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